According To A New Study, Our Oxygen-Rich Atmosphere May Only Last Another Billion Years

According To A New Study, Our Oxygen-Rich Atmosphere May Only Last Another Billion Years

The Earth's present atmosphere consists of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 0.9% argon, and 0.1% other gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, and neon. Earth has not always had such a high percentage of oxygen in its atmosphere. For the first two billion years of Earth, there was no oxygen in the atmosphere.

Today, oxygen is about 21 percent of the Earth's atmosphere. Its oxygen-rich nature is ideal for large and complex organisms, such as humans, that require Oxygen gas to survive. But Earth will not be able to sustain life forever. According to a new study in Nature Geoscience, our oxygen-rich atmosphere may only last another billion years.

The research was conducted by Kazumi Ozaki of the University of Tokyo and by Chris Reinhard of Georgia Tech. They modeled Earth's climatic, biological and geological systems to predict future atmospheric conditions on Earth.

According to the study, As our Sun ages, it is becoming more luminous, which means that more solar energy will be received in the future Earth. This increased energy will affect the planet's surface and atmosphere so much that the warmer atmosphere will break down carbon dioxide.

The levels of carbon dioxide will become so low that plants, which release oxygen through photosynthesis, will not survive — in the end, according to Reinhard, microbial life will survive on the planet. In contrast, terrestrial and aquatic life will soon disappear in the absence of oxygen.

So, when plants die from a lack of carbon dioxide, not only will there be a loss in the food chain, but, most importantly, a loss in the air they produce and the air we breathe.

Once changes in Earth's atmosphere begin to occur, they will progress quickly: the research team's calculations suggest that it could take 10,000 years for oxygen levels to fall to a millionth of what it is now.

Researchers also estimate that there will be a coinciding increase in methane to levels as high as 10,000 times the amount in the atmosphere today.

The research was conducted as part of the NASA project on planet habitability, and predictions have implications for searching for life on other planets. Oxygen-containing biosignatures are commonly used to identify habitable planets.

The presence of oxygen is an important factor in determining whether life on a planet may exist. As we see with Earth, however, a planet with no oxygen signature may support life in the future or the past.

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